There was this time at some point in the late 1990s when people I knew or people I wanted to know thought that Florida was a place to try out, that cities like Gainesville, Tampa, or Miami had good scenes and it was worth moving to those places simply based off of that. I sat up at night dreaming of the Lower East Side, Olympia, the East Bay, or San Diego, they seemed like mythical cities where the bands I liked seemed to multiply like gremlins in a summer rainstorm, where all the zines I liked came from, and where people who I only knew through AOL screen names lived. I knew one day I’d end up in one of those places.
I finally found myself living in Florida full-time not long after 9/11, although it was more of a last resort thing due to my ability to fuck up every part of my life and less because any bands I liked were there. All I could think about was getting the hell out and going to a better place. Most of the bands I’d liked, Reversal of Man, Floor, and Assück, had all broken up; I wasn’t that interested in what Hot Water Music was doing anymore, and my favorite band from there, Discount, was finished. I’d thought I’d brought along a copy of the lead singer’s zine with me, but it must have gotten lost in the move. When I asked my friend who knew her if he could see if she had any copies left, he told me, “Alison moved to London to start some new band. Some Royal Trux rip-off thing.” (Note: I like The Kills.) The only thing Florida had left was Against Me!, and that’s hardly enough to keep anybody who hates hot weather living in a place where there’s nothing going on. So after a year, I took a bus from Ft. Lauderdale all the way to Port Authority.
I spent my first few months in Brooklyn constantly sweating out last night’s party in the summer sun, always high because I was young and living in the greatest city to be in when you’re in your early twenties and pretty much worthless to the rest of the world. I had friends scattered throughout different neighborhoods who’d also moved there in various increments since the new millennium started. I got a job at a famous bakery where the boss told us it was perfectly fine to be rude to the customers, and every night we traded cupcakes for drinks. It wasn’t so much a moveable feast as it was just one long search for open bars, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Summer ended and everything started to change as some of my friends who had moved here to play in bands and write novels started taking the New York artist thing a little too seriously, they decided Berlin or Portland was a better choice. The book I wanted to write just wasn’t happening, I was drinking enough to worry that a problem was on the horizon, and bad drugs started creeping into my circle, the kind of drugs that I’d learned never have a happy ending. It got cold and I felt alone. I wondered if I’d made a mistake moving to New York. Maybe I’d be better off in a place like Florida?
It’s difficult to say a record saved me, but I picked up As The Eternal Cowboy on CD at a record store I know isn’t there anymore, and it definitely helped me when I needed it most. I did it on a December late afternoon as I walked around the East Village after a shift where I didn’t make that much in tips. I made my way towards the Williamsburg Bridge as the sun started to fall over the city and snow started to fall. I’d been living off of banana pudding and whatever else I could take home from my bakery job for sustenance, and since I didn’t make enough for a gym membership, walking from the West Village to Greenpoint served as my best for of exercise. It was totally dark out by the time I made it across on that particular night, I walked to a bar that I know isn’t there anymore and spent the rest of my paltry tips on drinks. I got drunk with a bunch of strangers, made a few friends who I’d never see again, and left the bar in good spirits. It was snowing harder when I walked out the door, and the streets were too quiet for me to believe I was still in New York City. Not being a fan of silence, I popped the new Against Me! CD into my Discman and felt this rush of energy shoot through me from the first song, “T.S.R.,” with the last lyrics, “No I’m not ready…to die…just yet” warming me up and for my walk home as the snow started falling harder.
Clocking in at 25 minutes, the band’s second LP is, in my mind, the perfect length for a punk album, and after “T.S.R.” it takes two more songs and just over three minutes to get to track four, “Sink, Florida, Sink.” Probably my one complaint about this is that you hardly have enough time to prepare yourself for it after the preceding faster tracks, you don’t have a second to collect yourself for the two minutes and forty-one seconds of Laura Jane Grace singing about the end of a relationship in such a gut-wrenching way that upon first hearing it, I just stopped in my tracks under the BQE as cars and trucks rushed over my head and listened to the song from the first lyric until the end. It was one of those rare moments where a song rendered me speechless, like hearing “I’d Rather Go Blind” by Etta James or “I’ve Been Riding With the Ghost” by Songs: Ohia for the first time. I played it again and thought about where I was, where I had been, and where I’d never go back.
On paper, yes, Florida is a big national joke that we all get to laugh at. All the Disney smiles and retirees in what has been called “the epicenter of a prescription drug abuse epidemic,” filled with trigger-happy stand-your-ground idiots. Yet for every @Floridaman tweet or listicle of things that could supposedly only happen in the Sunshine State, there’s this deep and very sad truth that Florida is America; it’s the place where all of our garbage sinks to and collects alongside the beaches. One state represents everything bad about us, so we mock it because it’s easy when things are contained within the borders of a place that’s shaped like a dick. The truth is that there’s a lot of bad spread across America, it all just sinks down to Florida sooner or later.
For all its sins, I’m actually thankful for Florida; it took thinking about sinking and drowning down there to make me see I was home in New York City, and listening to Against Me! under the BQE as the snow fell made me realize that.
This is one of more than 50 posts that make up our musical map of the United States, published by region—the West, Midwest, South, and Northeast—by writers who have strongly associated a song with a state.